Luka Doncic has grabbed the hearts of NBA fans, but if he thinks the second half is going to be a cakewalk to a Kia Rookie of the Year trophy, he better think again.
He’s got some company at the top.
After struggling to start the season, Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young is playing fantastic basketball of late. While early indications had some prognosticators wondering how he’d ever fit in the NBA, his recent play has him looking like a future star. Since the All-Star break, Young has topped 30 points in three of four games, with back-to-back 36-point games. Young shot just 19.8 percent from 3-point land in November, but he’s been constantly improving from deep since then.
In Sacramento, Marvin Bagley III has seen his playing time increase, and fans are seeing a franchise cornerstone and perennial All-Star. Before Wednesday’s game — which he left after spraining his knee in the third quarter — Bagley was averaging 24 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in the first three games since the All-Star break. He had three straight double-doubles, including a 28-point, 14-rebound showing against the defending-champion Golden State Warriors.
Deandre Ayton, who had been the biggest competition for Doncic through the first half, is still lingering, but his numbers have dropped off enough to require a serious uptick to make a run at Doncic.
Will anyone be able to catch Doncic? It might take a miracle, but Young and Bagley (assuming his injury isn’t serious) are going to make him earn it.
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1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week: No. 1
Doncic missed the first two games after the All-Star break with a sore right ankle, but returned with a pair of respectable games. Doncic put up a triple-double in Dallas’ 121-112 loss to the LA Clippers with 28 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He then followed that up by leading the Mavs to a 110-101 win over the Pacers with another big game. He put up 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists and hit a clutch 3-pointer in the final minute to seal the win. The only negative for Doncic has been the 16 turnovers in the last two games – nine in L.A. followed by seven vs. the Pacers.
2. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Last week: No. 2
As mentioned above, Young might be the only rookie with a chance to catch Doncic, who has likely already won over many voters with his consistent play. But looking at his numbers from February, you can start to see Young is gaining on Doncic to make a case. For the month, Doncic finishes with averages of 24.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 7.4 apg while shooting 44.3 percent overall (and 36.2 percent on 3-pointers). Young’s numbers? Try 23.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 9.3 apg while shooting 41.0 percent overall (and 43.7 percent 3-pointers). Not much of a separation there, and Young — coming off back-to-back 36-point games — is certainly looking like he’s ready to make a run at Doncic’s top spot.
3. Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings
Last week: No. 4
Bagley is due to have an MRI on Thursday for what the team called a sprained left knee, which is terrible news considering just how dominant Bagley has been lately. The No. 2 pick got a rare start on Monday, going toe-to-toe with Karl-Anthony Towns with 25 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks in 37 minutes. Bagley’s been big for the Kings off the bench all season, but it’s clear his time has come and — if the injury doesn’t turn out to be serious — the Kings’ playoff hopes hinge on his continued emergence down the stretch.
4. Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Last week: Not ranked
The Knicks’ rookie has turned into quite the sensation, capturing the hearts of fans at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks won back-to-back games this week, and Robinson was a major factor in both victories. In the Knicks’ against San Antonio on Sunday, Robinson put up 15 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks to help New York snap an 18-game home losing streak. Two nights later, the 7-foot-1 center had 17 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks and three steals in New York’s comeback win vs. Orlando. Robinson became the third rookie in the last 25 years to tally a double-double with at least five blocks in back-to-back games. The other two? Hall of Famer Yao Ming and future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. The two wins brought attention to the energetic rookie, but he’s been solid all month (10.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3.3 bpg in 22.6 mpg off the bench).
5. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Last week: No. 3
Ayton has seen his numbers dip since the All-Star break, but here’s the thing: They’re still pretty good. In three games, Ayton averaged 13.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg and 1.3 spg, but he was -14.3 in plus/minus as the Suns went 1-2. That lone win, of course, came just a few days after Ayton promised he was ready to “take over” and the Suns snapped their 17-game losing streak with a win against the Miami Heat. It will be interesting to see how the Suns handle Ayton down the stretch, and it would be nice to see the team actually run plays for their prize big man and let him “take over” as he’s promised.
Just missed the cut:
Allonzo Trier, New York Knicks
Trier has been big in the Knicks’ three games since the All-Star break, averaging 15.7 ppg on 53.8 percent shooting. His most notable performance came in the Knicks’ win over the Magic, in which he scored 18 points, grabbed five rebounds and had three steals in 21 minutes.
Josh Okogie, Minnesota Timberwolves
In the four games since the All-Star break, the Wolves’ lock-down defender has averaged 2.3 steals, thanks in large part to a four-steal game in a big win against the Kings. Okogie continues to be one of this class’ best defenders
Jalen Brunson, Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs’ other rookie guard is proving he belongs, and he had his best game Wednesday in Dallas’ 110-101 win against Indiana. Brunson started and scored a career-high 24 points’ on 9-for-14 shooting, hitting 3 of 6 3-pointers, including a clutch one in the final minute. “I’m there to help keep the energy,” said Brunson, who is averaging 16.8 points in the four games since the All-Star break. “Obviously Luka means a lot to this team, but I try to play pickup defense and stay available for my teammates. I’m there to play hard.”
Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Jackson deserves a mention solely because he’s been a fixture around here. Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing him for awhile as the team shut him down “indefinitely” with a bruise in his right quadriceps. With Memphis out of the playoff hunt, we might not see the team’s cornerstone big man again this season. “We’ve talked about it and we’ll be patient,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “The negative far outweighs the positive of him being rushed back. So we’re not in a hurry.”
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(All stats through Wednesday, Feb. 27)
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